When Does an Employer Have to Engage in the Interactive Process under the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides protection for “disabled individuals” who are currently employed or seeking employment. If an individual is disabled under the ADA, Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the individual’s disability by engaging in the “interactive process.” Failure for an Employer to engage in the interactive process of providing an accommodation is potential for an employment discrimination lawsuit.
In order for an individual to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, the individual must demonstrate that he/she: (1) is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Stultz v. Reese Bros., Inc., 835 A.2d 754, 760 (Pa. Super. 2003).
First, the individual has to have a “disability” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “disability” as an individual (1) with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) with a record of such an impairment or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).
Second, the individual must be a “qualified individual” as defined within the ADA. The ADA defines a “qualified individual” as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). This means that an individual must be able to perform the job functions “with or without an accommodation.” This is a key factor. For example, let’s say an individual’s job requires him/her to crawl through narrow shafts and he/she recently became paralyzed making it impossible to move their legs. No matter what accommodation the Employer provides, the individual will not be able to perform his/her essential job functions. Therefore, the individual is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA and the Employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation.
However, if the disabled individual establishes that he/she is protected under the ADA, the Employer must abide by the ADA. If the disabled individual makes a request for accommodation, it is unlawful for their Employer not to make reasonable accommodations unless the Employer can prove that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Stultz, 835 A.2d 754, 761 (citing Taylor v. Phoenixville School Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 311 (3rd Cir. 1999)). From a legal standpoint, a “reasonable accommodation” does not require the employer to (1) change or eliminate any essential function of employment, (2) shift any essential function of employment to other employees, (3) create a new position for you, (4) promote you or (5) reduce productivity standards.
To determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation for an individual’s disability in accordance with the ADA, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has articulated, “it may be necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the qualified individual with a disability in need of the accommodation.” Id. The intended purpose of the interactive process under the ADA is to, “identify the precise limitations resulting from the Plaintiff’s disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.” Stultz, 835 A.2d 754, 761.
To trigger an Employer’s duty to participate in the interactive process, the disabled individual must have put the Employer on notice that he/she has a disability and, based on such notice, the Employer must be able to reasonably deduce a request for accommodation has been made. Stultz, 835 A.2d 751, 761. It is not essential for the disabled individual to know and relay the specific names or details of his/her condition to the Employer as long as the disabled individual makes the Employer aware of the disability and his/her desire for reasonable accommodation. Id.
For more details on failure to engage in the interactive process in violation of the ADA, refer to Osheskie v. Allegheny Ludlum filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania at 2:14-cv-00694-MBC. In this lawsuit, we assert that Allegheny Ludlum failed to engage in the interactive process of accommodating our client, Mr. Osheskie.